How to become a sommelier
Being a sommelier is the career ambition of numerous wine enthusiasts.
Even though it’s far from being the only career option in the wine industry, a sommelier job is attractive to many. However, it’s a career that requires specific qualifications and plenty of relevant experience, so how can you go about becoming a sommelier?
Several people start by completing wine and spirits education courses, which will increase your knowledge of wine and refine your palate to the subtleties of the beverage. Let’s start by taking a deeper look at what a career as a sommelier really looks like.
What do sommeliers do?
A sommelier job description entails far more than just wine tasting. Sommeliers are in charge of wines in bars, restaurants, hotels and other hospitality venues. Their responsibilities often include helping clients choose the best wine to complement their meal, building a wine list, storing wine properly and caring for wine in the venue. However, several places also require their sommeliers to take up other roles, such as managing the bar or restaurant, waiting tables, purchasing wine from suppliers or monitoring sales. As such, working as a sommelier means you will need more than an excellent taste for wine – the career also requires skills such as customer service and logistic abilities.
What qualifications would you need?
Although several places don’t necessarily require specific sommelier certifications, it would certainly improve your chances to snatch a role in the area. Moreover, having experience in customer services and in the hospitality industry would also be a great addition to your curriculum.
There’s a wide variety of wine courses you can take up if you wish to enter the industry, ranging from beginner-level qualifications to advanced sommelier courses. For example, some institutions that offer wine courses include the International Sommelier Guild, the Institute of Masters of Wine and the Court of Masters Sommeliers. The latter two organizations offer more advanced certifications for those who already have a strong previous knowledge of wine and experience in the industry; they may also have prerequisites for enrolment.
Another organization that offers courses is the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), with qualifications in wine and spirits ranging from Level 1 Awards to Level 4 Diploma. The beginner-level WSET courses require no previous experience and are a great way to get started in the wine industry.
How much do sommeliers earn?
Sommelier salaries can vary greatly depending on previous experience, qualifications and the particular responsibilities the employer wants the sommelier to carry. According to payscale.com, a sommelier salary in Canada can range between $30,000 and $80,000, with a median pay of nearly $49,000. In addition, sommeliers can earn tips and bonuses on top of their normal pay depending on what the employer may offer. For example, if their position consists of often waiting tables, they are more likely to earn a fair amount of tips, and some places may also offer bonuses based on wine sales.
The Toronto School of Management (TSoM) is now offering the WSET Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits. Taking place over three Saturdays in November 2018, the program is a beginner to intermediate qualification. Attendees will learn how wine is made, explore major grape varieties and key wine-growing regions, consider vineyard and winery factors that influence the style of wines, and several other aspects of the industry. You can find more information about the course here.